A meeting has taken place between the Catholic Pope Francis and his staunch opponent, the ultra-conservative U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke. The prelate, now 75 years old, the retirement age for Catholic bishops, has been the harshest opponent of the reformist policies of Francis’ decade-long pontificate. The meeting came after the head of the Catholic Church withdrew Burke’s payment for his 400-square-meter Vatican apartment and reduced his monthly salary. Although he was prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and also an ex-patron emeritus of the Order of Malta, Burke currently holds no position in the Vatican Curia.
In the power struggle going on in the Vatican, the American heads the most reactionary bishops and cardinals to the moderate policies that Francis has tried to develop, such as favoring a greater participation of women in ecclesiastical life and no longer condemning homosexual couples. Burke, a staunch defender of Catholic traditionalism, criticizes the Muslim presence in Europe, linking it to an alleged intention to do away with Christianity, and advocates positions prior to the renewal that the Second Vatican Council signified in the 1960s.
Ideological and privilege clash
Practically nothing has come out of the meeting with Burke, as is customary in Vatican affairs. The anger of the American cardinal is evident, after the pope withdrew the privilege of living in an apartment of 400 m2 in the vicinity of St. Peter’s Square, paid by the Church, and lowered his monthly remuneration, which exceeded 6,000 dollars. According to some media, the pope explained that the reason for his gesture was the disunity created by the American cardinal, and his using the apartment and the salary paid to him by the Vatican against the Church.
Cardinal Burke participated in a conference entitled “The Synodal Babel”, the day before the beginning of the synod organized by Francis in October to discuss how the Church should present the Gospel. In his lecture, the opposition cardinal harshly criticized the assembly promoted by the pope, in which for the first time lay people, including women, were able to vote.
In addition, Burke, together with other prominent Vatican ultraconservatives, such as retired Cardinals Walter Brandmueller, Juan Sandoval or Robert Sarah, published a letter with five objections presented to Francis about the synod, thus breaking the usual discretion in matters that show internal discord.
In it they expressed their concern that “the blessing of homosexual couples could create confusion, not only by making them appear analogous to marriage, but also because homosexual acts would be presented as a good,” among other issues.
Since the beginning of the Argentine pope’s pontificate, he has tried to introduce certain airs of modernization in the stagnant Catholic structures, more in line with the majority social values of the 21st century. In this task, Francis has had several opponents, advocates of not modifying at all the forms and substance within the Church.
In this ideological and power struggle, the confrontation between Catholic communities has also become evident. In this sense, the struggle between Jesuits, the order to which the Pope belongs, and ultra-conservative sectors such as Opus Dei has been a constant. It was precisely Francis who revoked several privileges of this institution, such as having its own bishop, a prebend granted by John Paul II, a pope much closer to the conservative line of the Opus.
Nevertheless, among the toughest and most public opponents, Raymond Burke has been the one who has least concealed his disagreements with Francis. The pope, faithful to his discreet and conciliatory line, imposes an unusual demonstration of firmness with the decision to withdraw privileges from the cardinal.
Given the pontiff’s advanced age, 87, and his delicate state of health, the College of Cardinals has been renewed in recent years. This body is currently composed of 241 cardinals, 132 of whom are electors of popes under 80 years of age. Its members were elected during the pontificates of the conservative John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but also by the innovator Francis, who has taken care to ensure a majority more favorable to his theses, especially among the electors.